Mounties announced the first big break in their investigation into the infamous Highway of Tears murders Tuesday, naming a suspect linked to at least three cases.

At a Tuesday press conference, police identified convicted killer, kidnapper and attempted rapist Bobby Jack Fowler as the man responsible for the murder of Colleen MacMillen, a 16-year-old who disappeared while hitchhiking near 100 Mile House in 1974.

Her body was found off a logging road 46 kilometres away.

Mounties say DNA evidence tied Fowler to MacMillen’s murder, and investigators suspect he’s also responsible for the 1973 killings of Gale Weys near Clearwater and Pamela Darlington in Kamloops.

Fowler, an American citizen, died of lung cancer in an Oregon prison in 2006, but police believe prior to his incarceration he spent decades moving back and forth across the border.

MacMillen’s brother Shawn spoke after Tuesday’s announcement, thanking police for their efforts in solving his sister’s murder.

“Colleen was a lovely, sweet, innocent 16-year-old kid and there are no words to express how terribly she was wronged,” MacMillen said.

The identification of Fowler marked a significant advancement in the Highway of Tears probe comprising 18 cases of women who went missing or were murdered along B.C. highways.

Dozens of murders have been linked to the Highway of Tears, but authorities say 18 cases share hallmarks and may be the work of one or more serial killers. Those have been the focus of a an RCMP task force known as E-PANA.

Profile of a suspected serial killer

At Tuesday’s press conference, Police also released disturbing details about Fowler, who was working in Prince George as a roofer the year MacMillen went missing.

They said Fowler was a drifter, an alcoholic and a drug user who thought very little of women, and whose “personality could change at a moment’s notice.”

“He believed that the vast majority of women he came in contact with… women that hitchhike and went to taverns and bars, desired to be sexually assaulted and violently sexually assaulted,” said Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens.

“There’s a number of living victims that have provided extremely disturbing and graphic details,” Callens said, adding that Fowler’s intention was to kill many of the women he viciously sexually attacked.

The convict had many brushes with the law all over the United States, in Ohio, California Oregon and Texas, where he served two years for assaulting a 67-year-old woman.

His crime spree ended after an assault on a woman in a Newport hotel in 1995. The victim managed to escape by jumping naked out of a second story window with a rope still tied around her ankle; Fowler was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the attack.

Now, American police are investigating his potential involvement in a number of murders along the Oregon coast highway, including those of 19-year-old Shiela Swanson, 17-year-old Melissa Sanders, 16-year-old Jennifer Esson and 16-year-old Kara Leas.

Those who socialized with Fowler, served him or worked with him in Prince George at Happy’s Roofing are asked to come forward and speak to police.

Fowler has been cleared in eight of the 18 Highway of Tears slayings, but Authorities are now asking those who knew Fowler to come forward and assist in their ongoing investigation.

Those who socialized with Fowler, served him or worked with him in Prince George at Happy’s Roofing are asked to come forward and speak to police.

Anyone with information can contact investigators at 1-877-543-4822.

Break in case renews hope for others

The families of other women murdered along the Highway of Tears say the major break in the RCMP investigation has renewed their hope for justice.

Brenda Wilson’s younger sister Ramona is one of the subjects of the RCMP’s E-PANA probe. She vanished from Smithers in 1994; her body was found close to a year later.

“I don’t wish this on anybody,” Wilson said. “I just don’t want to think about what, you know, my sister… had to go through.”

“I just hope we find answers in the rest of the cases.”

Gladys Radek’s niece Tamara Chipman vanished near Prince Rupert in 2005. Today, Radek’s van is covered in photos displaying the faces of missing women.

“There’s still 17 more cases,” Radek said. “I think there’s a lot of perpetrators running around up there.”

Closure for other families still awaiting answers could potentially come with the help of forensics, the same technology that found a link between MacMillan and Fowler.

Hope for other families awaiting closure could

“We have the tools now to open up old cases and take a fresh look,” said Dr. Dean Hildebrand, director of the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s forensic science department.

Hildebrand says the latest tools can target even the smallest traces of DNA evidence.

“The DNA molecule is a very robust molecule. With the technology we have today we are breaking cases just like so it’s becoming more and more routine almost.”

E-PANA investigators confirmed Tuesday they also have three strong suspects believed responsible for the murders of three more women. Two of the suspects have died, and the surviving suspect’s name has not been released.

With files from CTV British Columbia's Lisa Rossington, Jon Woodward and Maria Weisgarber